A somewhat unfocused article was posted on USNews.com this week about ending the standardized testing “circus.” Andrew Rotherham rails on about the immense focus that schools put on testing, but also argues that teachers may begin to appreciate the test as time moves on. His point about the “circus” atmosphere is only glossed over as the article takes off in other directions:
It turns out, surprisingly enough, when adults in a school make tests into a big deal – telling kids they really matter, wearing matching shirts for solidarity, holding pep rallies, emphasizing test prep rather than teaching and launching parent-teacher association campaigns to make sure everyone is fortified with enough snacks – the kids pick up on it. A cynic might think it’s a deliberate effort to sour parents on the tests.
Exasperating? Yes. But the schools are to blame as much as any test, test company or public official. When did it become OK for educators to make the tests into such a circus? The idea that this kind of environment is inevitable is belied by all the public schools that don’t treat testing this way.
Does he have a point about how much schools drum the importance of standardized tests into students heads? Yes. Is it true that schools have sacrificed their overall culture, evolving from a learning environment to little more than test prep institutions? No doubt about it. However, this isn’t a recent ‘Common Core’ inspired development.
Here in South Florida, schools have been slamming kids heads full of test-taking tips since day one of the school year after Jeb Bush used the FCAT (Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test) to kick off the high-stakes testing era. As the FCAT test approached in spring, several schools here in Palm Beach County started throwing “FCAT Family Nights” or other events at night to get the parents to the school and give them more information on the tests. FCAT pep rallies the week before the exam were commonplace, as were raffles, t-shirt giveaways, etc. Perhaps with all of the weight of standardized test prep, someone thought this would help take the pressure off of some students. From my vantage point they could have given away “FCAT dollar stacks” and it wouldn’t have mattered. Educators and students alike were absolutely sick of the acronym by the time the year ended. No amount of stupid games, prizes or even in the case of teachers, “bonus money,” was going to change that.
Schools and districts will give “bribes” or “incentives” to encourage students to do what they want. It didn’t start with the Common Core, or the FCAT and it won’t end there, either. I covered the topic of these “incentives” a few months back on this blog, and how districts used them to encourage participation in the Common Core standardized tests.
For starters parents should demand that schools ratchet down the focus on tests. No more rallies, no more making the tests the focus of the school week, month or year. And parents shouldn’t tolerate adult stress becoming an issue for their kids. Some policies need fixing, too, but there seems to be little correlation between specific policies and how much of a circus testing becomes in some schools.
I have a better idea… How about parents demand that our lawmakers abolish the Common Core, and standardized tests of that ilk, once and for all.